About a month ago my partner came to me and said for his birthday this year he wanted us to take a road trip. Now mind you, he and I are nearly 20 years together, and except for driving to Boston or Provincetown from New York during the summer, we have never taken a “road trip,” just the two of us, across or through other parts of the country.
I asked him where we were going? In the past, he had expressed an interest in visiting the very artistic and reportedly very gay city of Asheville, North Carolina, and this was the destination he decided upon. It’s his birthday, so I said Ok, let’s do it. But wait, “There’s more,” he said. He went on to explain that he thought it might also be fun to drive through the countryside to Nashville, Tennessee, and then into the Smokey Mountains to visit Dollywood.
I had always wanted to see Dollywood, as I have been a major Dolly Parton fan my whole life. Visiting Nashville was a dream too. I’m a singer-songwriter, and that town is the songwriting capital of America! I had always wanted to see the Johnny Cash Museum too. This was shaping up to be an excellent idea for a road trip. I was excited.
But then reality set in … and I remembered a few current news headlines.
In recent months, Tennessee has been a hotbed of intolerance and racial tensions on the rise. During October 2018, four gay bars in Nashville received anti-gay, pro-Trump threats via email.
According to NewsChannel 5: ‘On Thursday, Melvin Brown, owner of Stirrup, received a flyer in the mail with the letters LGBT on the front of it. But instead of standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, the letters LGBT are portrayed with a picture of the Statue of Liberty, a gun, a beer and an image of President Trump. The postcard has a “MAGA” stamp on the back of it and has a return address that traces back to an empty lot in downtown Nashville. “When you put a picture of an assault rifle on there which was used in the Pulse shooting, and you mail it to every LGBT bar in Nashville, that is coming from a hateful place. To say that it’s disturbing is an understatement,” Brown said.’
In a separate incident, Tennessee made the news when a man was arrested for a homophobic attack. His arrest came about after he went online, covered in blood, to brag about the beating. He claimed the victim had “grabbed his junk and molested him,” but as yet that allegation is unsubstantiated and the police suspect he is lying. The victim suffered a broken nose and orbital eye socket. He denies he made any physical advance toward his attacker but does admit he propositioned him.
With all these homophobic incidents occurring in Tennessee I wondered was there a reason for concern or was I just being paranoid? I mean bad things can happen anywhere, right? So, I convinced myself that I should give Tennessee another consideration. I mean, after all, I hear they have the most kickass BBQ in the country, and that alone could sway my decision.
However, around this same time, came more disappointing news from Tennessee. Reportedly hate-crimes are on the rise across the entire state, and a landmark civil rights building had been burned to the ground. White supremacy symbols were found nearby in the charred rubble:
The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported that Tennessee today has 36 hate groups, inclusive of generations of notorious groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (The KKK). However, in our current era of the ’emboldened racist,’ self-identifying Klansmen are no-longer hiding behind fresh-pressed linens. They have morphed into modern divisions such as Aryan Nations Knights of the Ku Klux Klan where they exist openly, spewing hate without their hoods.
The “hashtag symbol” found painted near the site of the fire indicates one of these groups could be the culprit. The symbol is commonly used by many white supremacy groups in the area through its actual meaning is not known. Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Coffey told the Knoxville News Sentinel, “It’s not a traditional, throw-it-in-your-face symbol that you would immediately recognize.”
The city of Nashville, Tennessee is supposedly more progressive and metropolitan as a city as compared to the outskirts of town, but if you are driving there, from New York City as I was planning, what happens if you accidentally end up on a back road, as a gay interracial couple? How safe are you?
All things considered, I really would like to visit Tennessee one day, but with gays and blacks being targeted in hate crimes, I check both those boxes. I would love some of that good BBQ, but until Tennessee gets a grip on its 36 and counting white nationalist hate group problem, I’m going to have to hold off on the Smokey Mountains ribs and Dollywood … for now.
This piece is an opinion piece by one Contributing Writer for Instinct Magazine and may not reflect the opinion of the magazine or other Contributing Writers.